Coordinating Remote Education For Students With Additional Learning Needs

Mar 23, 2020

As remote learning ramps up this week, for students who recieve additional services from their school, including special education, the transition to remote learning is complex. We hear how educators, families, and students are navigating the transition. 

Air date: Tues, March 24, 2020. 

GUESTS:

  • Sarah Gibson - NHPR reporter covering education and the Southern Tier. 
  • Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu - Executive Director of N.H. Association of Special Education Administrators. 
  • Rebecca Fredette - Special Education Director for the N.H. Department of Education. 
  • Karen Rosenberg - Senior staff attorney for the Disability Rights Center, and serves on the State Advisory Committee for the Education of Students/Children with disabilities.

Transcript

  This is a machine generated transcript; there may be errors.

Laura Knoy:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Laura Knoy and this is The Exchange.

Laura Knoy:
This is the first full week for all New Hampshire students to engage in remote learning. But for those children who receive additional services from their schools, including special education, the transition is complicated. For students, teachers, support staff and families. Listeners, if you're the parent of a child with additional learning needs, what's been your experience so far? And educators, if you provide some of these services? Let us know what's changed for you.

Laura Knoy:
A quick update on the latest news around coronavirus in New Hampshire. Yesterday we learned that the first death from coronavirus in the state has occurred. A man over the age of 60 from Hillsborough County died yesterday, and officials said the number of diagnosed cases in New Hampshire has reached 101. Also yesterday, Governor Sununu announced that he would not implement a shelter in place order, but continued to encourage social distancing. Tomorrow on The Exchange, we'll talk about this decision with local leaders across the state. And you can find the latest updates on coronavirus in New Hampshire anytime at NHPR dot org. So as we turn our attention to remote special education, joining us are Sarah Gibson NHPR's education reporter who's been covering all aspects of this transition to remote learning. Sarah, great to have you. Welcome back.

Sarah Gibson:
Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
Also joining us, Rebecca Fredette, state Special Education Director. She's been in that position for just a few months. Rebecca, welcome. Thank you very much.

Rebecca Fredette:
Thanks for having me, Laura.

Laura Knoy:
And also with us, Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu, Executive Director, the New Hampshire Special Education Administrators Association. And Jane, welcome back. Good to have you this morning.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Thanks so much. Pleased to be here.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Jane, when you heard the announcement just a couple weeks ago, really that all New Hampshire schools were going remote. And then yesterday, Governor Sununu said that they are going to re-evaluate on April 3rd. But this this crisis is not going away in a couple of weeks. The likelihood of it continuing is more likely than not. So here we are. But just sort of roll back to that time when this announcement was first made. Jane, what went through your mind?

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Well, you know, I think for our association, the first thing that we focused on was making sure we pay attention to the health and well-being of our children and youth with disabilities and the staff that they serve that serve them.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
We keep that in the foremost forefront as we embark upon this and our organization, secondly, has you know, when we did realize that we had to jump into action in regard to supporting all of our administrators and teachers as they began to look at how to deliver special education remotely.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, it's complicated when you say health and wellbeing, Jane. That's interesting. What do you mean?

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Well, you know, our children are in schools all day, and this has been a real traumatic change for them.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
And some of our kids and youth with disabilities are some of our most fragile students, whether it be physical disabilities or mental health challenges, all of this support that they're getting in school. We need to rethink all of that and provide all of the support as best as we can remotely so that they can stay healthy and well, you know, taking into consideration all of the recommendations from the CDC as we think about the delivery of remote services.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So it's not just, you know, helping someone who may have difficulty learning in a particular way on a particular topic. There there's some real physical challenges and sometimes mental health challenges with this group of students that are being met in the schools. And how do you do that remotely? That seems to be what you're saying, Jane.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Right.

Laura Knoy:
Rebecca, how about you? You told me just a moment ago that you've been in this job just since November. So here you are. You start this job as the head of the state's special education office and then just a couple of months in the state says, you know what, everybody's remote. What went through your mind when that announcement was made?

Rebecca Fredette:
So initially my reaction was, wow, how am I going to do that with my children? It was more of a personal reaction because I do have two children at home who attend school. But I also have two college students who are also home. So it was, you know, how we're going to juggle that. And then my next response was Oh wait, my new job. How am I going to support all of these districts as they try to, you know, learn how to do this remotely and plan this quickly and support their students and support the educators that are trying to figure this out? I'm just just trying to figure those pieces out and how we as a department can support the schools.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. And just Jane touched on this. But just give us a sense of the range of needs that districts are keeping an eye on. Jane reminds us it isn't just, you know, difficulty learning in a particular way or a particular topic, it's a lot more complicated.

Rebecca Fredette:
It is. There are some health issues that we need to take into consideration for some of our students. There's a social and emotional issues that that come into play with this. We provide, schools provide a lot of different supports ranging from just, you know, a check in daily to some really intensive services, either through OT or excuse me, occupational therapy, physical therapy, speech and language counseling goals. But at the same time, helping students learn to walk and helping students learn to speak. So it's a wide range of services that we're providing. And how do you do that remotely? How and how do we support you in doing that remotely?

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So, Sarah Gibson, how many special education in the students are affected by this shift to remote learning?

Sarah Gibson:
Sure. So there are about 30000 students who have what we're calling IEP plans. So individualized education plans. Rebecca, you can check me if that's wrong, but that's our understanding from the state report, which really takes a tally of that every year across districts.

Sarah Gibson:
And in addition to that, there are students who have something called 504 plans which are sometimes a little bit less involved, less complicated, but also, you know, really outline the additional services they need in order to get and access the same level of education and participate in school in the same way that a student without these plans would would be able to. So we're talking about, you know, a really large chunk of the New Hampshire student population.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. 30000 students. That's a lot, Sarah.

Sarah Gibson:
It is. And just for reference, we have about one hundred and seventy seven thousand students total in in New Hampshire, K-through-12.

Laura Knoy:
You know, Rebecca painted a good picture of what we mean by additional services and special education. But I'd love to get something from you too Sarah. What does that mean? Additional services, special education for those listeners who aren't directly involved in this field?

Sarah Gibson:
Sure. Yeah. So as Rebecca was saying, it's a huge range.

Sarah Gibson:
It can be as involved as someone who really needs a one on one full time paraprofessional with them at all times, helping them, you know, eat food, helping them take their medication at the right time, doing very basic daily care. These people sometimes have some kind of nursing certification even. And then it could be that a student has autism and they need to go to group therapy to develop their social skills.

Sarah Gibson:
And that's part of their IEP, their their their plan or, you know, a physical therapy and occupational therapy were mentioned. And then things that I think a lot of listeners might be a little bit more familiar with.

Sarah Gibson:
You know, a reading specialist three times a week for 30 minutes, because you're you're you have some some reading challenges or a math specialist. So it really, really runs the gamut. And as we're finding now, it has I think we'll discuss more. Some of this stuff can happen remotely. And some of these other more intensive services are really, really hard to translate now that people are learning from home.

Laura Knoy:
Sure. I'm hearing the three of you talk about really direct one on one supports and we'll definitely talk about how that's being done. I want to remind listeners that you can join us. We're talking about remote special education. The transition from in-school to remote learning for special education students can be complicated for the students, teachers, support staff and, of course, families. Listeners, if you're the parent of a child with additional learning needs, what's been your experience so far? And educators? If you provide these services, let us know what's changed for you.

Laura Knoy:
So, Rebecca, the Education Department is has been talking about a three tiered plan for these 30000 students that Sarah mentioned. So what is that plan, Rebecca?

Rebecca Fredette:
The plan is that as the commissioners laid out, there's the remote instruction, which would be those instruction that any student would have. And across, you know, that whole 177000 students that we talked about.

Rebecca Fredette:
And providing similar instruction for special education students determining if special education students are able to receive their education through that remote instruction and how we can support them in that remote instruction. The second tier is the remote services. So through collaboration with the HHS, the commissioner has this is still a viable option to have small groups of students come to the school and receive instruction or receive some of their services, taking into consideration all the health factors, safety factors. And and how comfortable staff are in doing that and providing those services, but that still is an option to be able to bring some of those in. And then if if you still have students who either through their more remote instruction or the remote services are not able to get all of the services they need. Tracking what you're doing so that at the end of all of this we can look and say these are some of the compensatory services that students need. Some of the services that, you know, they weren't able to make as much progress as we thought. We weren't able to give them as much speech and language as we thought we would. So how are we gonna how we're gonna try to make that up afterwards and making up the determining compensatory services.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So the same legal issues there, Rebecca, right. That we'll talk about a little bit later with legal expert, but. Yeah, go ahead.

Rebecca Fredette:
Yes. Yes, definitely. There's some legal issues. And you know, OSEP, which is the Office of Special Education Programs for the federal government, has put out some guidance around. You want to be doing your best effort. We want to make sure that you're making a reasonable effort to provide students with everything you can and then then looking at compensatory services, not just going straight to compensatory services.

Laura Knoy:
You know, Jane, I'd love to bring into this, too, that Tier 2 that Rebecca described where the child might go into the school to get those services. Does that also include, Jane, the professional coming to the home to give those services? So who's who's going where when people decide, you know, this really needs to happen face to face?

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Yeah. And before I comment on here, I just want to say that our staff and administrators are doing an exemplary job in terms of the vast majority of our kids with disabilities are participating in remote instruction. And that includes related service personnel. You know, delivering remote occupational therapy, speech language pathology. And it when it comes to the Tier 2 on, it seems as though there's just a small portion of our schools who are opting to bring students in small groups of, you know, less 10 or less into the school to get their special education services and that staff are providing those services in the school setting. There's been considerate, considerable amount of concern raised, especially around the health and safety issues of bringing students into the schools. Difficulties with keeping buildings clean and keeping that social distance. So that's been a major concern on the part of our association association members. And we will continue to look at that. It's really a small portion of kids who are getting the services in the school. In regards to home services in talking with our association members, there are only a very few districts that are sending services into the home and most of them are medically rated specific to nursing. There may be some other situations, but for the majority of our kids, we're not sending services into the home.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. So just make sure I get it right. Jane, it sounds like the vast majority of these 30000 students are being served as best as possible remotely.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Yes. You know, and there's some fundamental things that our administrators have really focused on and one is to ensure that our kids with disabilities continue learning. The second one is that they have full access to the general curriculum, meaning the same kinds of learning opportunities that their non-disabled peers have. And that all the services that they're getting, the specially designed instruction is really aligned and congruent with their IEP.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
So that specially designed instruction be provided early on is really aligned to their IEP and that it's drawing fundamental pieces that teachers who are working with kids, that we need help all communication with families and monitor the progress of kids and having those compensations to make sure that kids keep learning.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
We've talked a little bit [inaudible] compensatory ed and Rebecca and I have talked about the importance of having a common definition around compensatory education. Typically that means lost skills. Not necessarily a lack of progress, but demonstration that the kid has actually lost skills. So we've been encouraging staff members to Make sure that the minute remote learnign starts that we're Collecting data that we're monitoring progress that would indicate regularly and ongoing...

Laura Knoy:
And Jane, I'm going to jump in there on you for a moment. I do apologize. It's a a new world here. All our guests are remote on The Exchange as we practice social distancing. I myself am remote. And your line seems to be not in great shape. So we will reconnect with you and hopefully get you a better line as we continue with our other guests. Rebecca Fredette, state Special Education Director and Sarah Gibson, NHPR's education reporter. And listeners, you can join us as well, especially if you are the parent of a student who receives special education services from the school. How's it going? Getting those services delivered remotely. Also, if you're an educator involved in this, we'd love to hear from you.

Laura Knoy:
So Sarah Gibson, our other guests, Jane and Rebecca, described this sort of three tiered approach that the Department of Education is putting out. Again, one is all remote learning to is, you know, some remote learning, but some possibly small groups. And three is saying, look, this is just too difficult to provide right now, but we promise we will make up for those missed services down the road. So those are the three tiers. How have local districts, Sarah, been responding to these plans?

Sarah Gibson:
Well, I think, as Jane said, there is some concern that Tier 2 is going to be hard to execute and Tier 2 being the small cohort in a school building model. Both fear of fear from fear from families that they don't want to, you know, expose their child even to five other kids and concern among providers and peer educators and specialists that, you know, even if our district is doing a great job cleaning we just, we just don't feel comfortable, you know, going in on a daily basis and potentially exposing ourselves and therefore our families to the virus. So so I do think we're going to see some resistance to Tier 2. And I just I want to note this Tier 3 compensatory services that we're talking about. This is kind of a legal path that families go through if say, you know, there are several months in which a student did not get the services they are legally mandated to get because of their plan. They get those in a compensatory fashion, say, over the summer or the following fall. But I. But as we move to potentially having to provide more compensatory services later down the road to those folks who just really can't get services through remote learning, that is that's a big deal for districts because it means potentially a huge expense. And also just a real logistical feat after the feat of remote learning to get kids caught up over the course of the summer or early next semester in the fall to make sure, you know, all of all the things that they are supposed to be provided in their plan truly are.

Laura Knoy:
Wow.

Sarah Gibson:
So so compensatory services, you know, might really be the best route for some of the students who need more intensive, more intensive services that are often really just have to be One-On-One and in-person. But I am hearing from parents, we are not so sure this occupational therapy is going to be great remotely if it's not of the quality that I'm used to and not of the quality that my child expects and that we expect through the IEP, this plan, we're going to ask for compensatory services.

Laura Knoy:
Sarah I'm going to jump in on you there, I do apologize. Coming up. Perfect segueway to who we're going to talk about next. An attorney who examines the rights of special education students will be with us. Keep it right here. This is The Exchange on NHPR.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange I'm Laura Knoy. Today, remote special education. The transition from in school to remote learning for special education students can be complicated for students, teachers, support staff and families. Listeners. Let's hear from you. If you're the parent of a student who gets additional learning from school, what's your experience been so far with this? Everything going remote. Educators would love to hear from you, too, if you provide these services for students. Let us know what's changed for you.

Laura Knoy:
My guests for the hour, Sarah Gibson NHPR's education reporter, Rebecca Fredette, state Special Education Director. And Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu, Executive Director, the New Hampshire Special Education Administrators Association. And with us now on the line is Karen Rosenberg. She's staff attorney at the Disability Rights Center. Karen, great to have you. Thank you very much.

Karen Rosenberg:
Thanks for having me.

Laura Knoy:
So, Karen, what is the public school system legally obligated to do for special education students?

Karen Rosenberg:
Well, even when the schools are in this current situation to the greatest degree possible, they need to ensure that students with disabilities who have been identified for special education and related services receive those as best they can provide them to students with disabilities should be receiving a free, appropriate public education, which means receipt of the services and supports that are listed in their individualized education program or IEP.

Laura Knoy:
What are the potential legal ramifications, Karen, if these requirements are not met?

Karen Rosenberg:
I think your guest was speaking about this earlier. If the requirements aren't met, then the IEP teams will need to meet to determine what services the students missed out on, whether the student may have lost some skills and design a plan for providing compensatory education services to make up for the services they didn't receive and to help the student to recapture the skills they may have lost.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, we talked about some of the complexities around that. But I hear you. What types of complaints or issues, Karen? Have you been hearing about in your office so far, recognizing that this is new?

Karen Rosenberg:
So yeah, it's pretty early on. So far we've heard from sort of both ends of the spectrum.

Karen Rosenberg:
We've heard from a couple of parents whose school districts told them that their students weren't going to be receiving any of the related services in their IEPs either remotely or care to or anyway. And I think that our office has been able to work with those districts and also with the Department of Education to try to come up with plans for those students.

Karen Rosenberg:
I think part of this is trying to encourage students and excuse me, parents and districts to work together creatively to come up with some solutions. I've also actually heard from a client whose student is doing really well. Whose school is doing pretty well. Usually we only hear complaints, but happened to be someone who I've been working with in the past. And she reached out to tell me that her child's school is continuing using remote learning and face time type apps to provide one one counseling, group counseling, classroom, virtual classroom and to check in with her that they're having the school nurse call every day to make sure everyone in the family is healthy and see how they're all doing. So I think there's a whole wide variety what's going on out there right now.

Laura Knoy:
I definitely got a sense of that from our guests earlier about the wide, wide range of services needed. And sometimes it works well and sometimes it doesn't to provide these services remotely. What are your hopes, Karen, as these systems roll out in districts across the state?

Karen Rosenberg:
Well, in part, I'm hoping that schools can figure out a safe way to provide some of the vitally needed services that some kids with really significant disabilities require.

Karen Rosenberg:
Even if that means having small numbers of kids coming into the schools and because I think the longer that children go without these services, the worse the consequences will be, especially for kids who have the most significant needs. I'm also hoping that schools will just be creative. We are seeing that some school districts are being willing to engage with parents and work creatively and try to come up with solutions even to provide services remotely. So hopefully more of that will continue.

Laura Knoy:
Have you had any conversations, Karen, with the Department of Education about how to do this, about how they hope it will go?

Karen Rosenberg:
Several of us had a conversation with the commissioner, Frank Edelblut and it actually was a very helpful conversation. He expressed his willingness to work with us and help us in our work with families navigating the system.

Karen Rosenberg:
And it was my impression that the State Department of Education wants to be able to support school districts during this time to help students with disabilities to benefit from instruction.

Laura Knoy:
Any advice, Karen, for parents who might be listening?

Karen Rosenberg:
Yeah, I think, you know, it's going to be a challenging time for everyone, for the parents and the schools, so parents don't think you're expected to be your school, your students, teacher, and be expert at that. I think that you're going to need to rely on the professionals your students work with and reach out to them and do some problem solving together.

Karen Rosenberg:
And if parents are in a situation where they're feeling that they're not able to work cooperatively with the school district or the school districts aren't being responsible or responsive, they can contact our office. Disability Rights Center, I can give you the number it's 2 2 8 0 4 3 2. Although we're all working remotely, we have attorneys who are available to speak with parents directly and help them to navigate these challenging times. There are also a lot of resources available.

Karen Rosenberg:
They can check Parent Information Center's web site pic n h dot org. They've got a lot of resources. Even our State Department of Education has resources for parents. So if you have Internet access, you're 10 steps ahead of people who don't. Another concern.

Laura Knoy:
That's another issue out there. Yes. Some people do not have great internet access. I mean, I appreciate you raising that.

Karen Rosenberg:
That is a that's a concern, I think, for parents who have children with significant disabilities, who don't have great Internet access, who maybe are also trying to work and balance taking care of other children. These are going to be very challenging times. And we'll have to do our best.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I really appreciate you being with us with us, Karen, thank you very much. I appreciate the thought on challenging times and everybody's just doing their best. Thank you.

Karen Rosenberg:
Thanks. Thank you.

Laura Knoy:
That's Karen Rosenberg, staff attorney at the Disability Rights Center. And Rebecca Fredette, any thoughts on what we heard from Karen Rosenberg there about, you know, it's tough. Everybody's trying their best. But in the meantime, there are legal requirements that schools do have to meet.

Rebecca Fredette:
Yes. And that's I think that's the hardest part is where there are some things we just can't can't step back and say, no, we can't follow that. There are the legal requirements of it. And we want to ensure that students are getting what they need to be to continue to progress and that we're providing them what they need. Because my concern is that as we look at these compensatory services, if if we're if we're not providing services, not only will our students not gain the skills that they need and they may regress, but school districts are looking at some some financial difficulties later on when we get to compensatory services and possible legal legal action if we if we're not getting those services to students right now. So it's kind of a a multi-tiered concern. I guess you could say, as we want to make sure students get their services, but legally, we also want to make sure that we're not setting districts up to fail later on.

Laura Knoy:
Yeah, well, and again, Karen gave us that number. Let me give it again, 2 2 8 0 4 3 2, just in case. Got an e-mail from Tracy in Rochester who says, Why is the commission not requiring school districts to submit their comprehensive special education plans into the Department of Education? Tracy, thank you for the e-mail. And Sarah. Do you have any light that you can and can shed on that? How much school districts have to submit their comprehensive special education plans into the Department of Education? I'm just wanting about the the breakdown of state versus local there.

Sarah Gibson:
Yeah. I think Rebecca could could better explain that for me.

Sarah Gibson:
I mean, there's certainly pretty consistent lines of communication between the D-O-E and families who feel who may feel as though the services outlined in the IEP are not being met. There are specific routes that they can take to basically appeal that and file complaints with the DOE. So but Rebecca, I could speak more to that. I do want to note that this kind of image we have of like there being a stack of IEP plans that every district has and you know who who else gets to see them.

Sarah Gibson:
I just in talking to districts last week, those stacks of IEP plans, which are extremely involved and often really, really hard to understand as a layperson, even as a parent. Districts were going through every single one of those plans, essentially highlighting what they could or could not provide that they're, you know, again, legally mandated, mandated to and then hopefully being in touch with parents and the student about what the plan was starting this week as remote learning kicks off. So these plans are really involved. And there are, you know, special ed coordinators in the districts whose job it is to really make sure that those plans translate to remote learning and that what. Again, what cannot be translated now is provided in a compensatory way later on. But I would ask Rebecca about kind of that granular like how to what extent are you seeing the IEP plans and overseeing all of these thousands and thousands of plans that each district has?

Laura Knoy:
Right. I really appreciate your raising that, Sarah, because these plans are complicated. I've taken a peek at them. Some of them before. And then you have to go through and say, I can do this. I absolutely cannot do this remotely, you know, line by line. Rebecca, to you and also to you, Jane. But Rebecca, go ahead.

Rebecca Fredette:
So at this point, that part of we we would not be able to. I don't think districts would be able to report to us on every single IEP that is out there. I mean, that would be 30000 IEPs each with very individualized services and very individualized plans around what they're doing for each of those students. We're not asking for regular ed staff or districts to submit plans to us at this point. So we're also not asking special ed staff to take that time away from their students to report to us on every one of those plans. It is local control and we are we are here to support staff as they go through this and figuring out what they're needing. But to have them report on 30000 plans would just be astronomical. It would take them forever to be able to report out to us on all of those.

Laura Knoy:
Well, Tracy, thank you for writing in. And let's talk to Heather, who's calling in. Good morning, Heather. Thanks for being with us.

Caller:
Good morning, thanks for taking my call.

Laura Knoy:
Sure.

Caller:
So I have two children that are doing remote learning. My my comment in question are for those children with complex disabilities and other needs like my son. He requires one to one intensive support to access the film, including medical support. We've been told to work collaboratively with our struggling to be creative in which we have provided a couple of options to our district. You contract with someone that's already familiar with the district, who is already coming into our home to provide the one to one support that my son needs to access his curriculum. My son is a child who is being ignored and is falling through the cracks. It would be really detrimental to his overall progress. So my question is, what do we do in a case where a district is blatantly not addressing the needs of students with disabilities and not discussing any type of compensatory services at that point?

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Heather, it's a tough situation. I appreciate you calling in. Thank you. And Jean Bergeron-Beaulieu, why don't you take that one first, please?

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Sure. You know, there are processes in place for parents if they need to file a complaint, if if a student is not being provided the services that are outlined in an IEP. So hopefully, you know, you can access those avenues. And in terms of compensatory education, that's, again, something that can't be determined now. But certainly as time goes on if if the student isn't getting the services on and when the time comes where we're up and running and can provide them, the district would go the route of discussing compensatory education with you.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
So I think there are routes to take for both of the situations that you brought to our attention.

Laura Knoy:
You know, Jane, just hearing Heather talk, we talked about, you know, the legal requirements and so forth and some of the complexities around these individual education plans. What about the sort of emotional or psychological aspects of this for parents? You know, the uncertainty and the complexity?

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Well, you know, as we've discussed just a few minutes ago, there are so many procedural aspects and timelines that everyone is still being held to. And I think our district, as I said in the beginning, are keeping kids first and foremost in terms of their health and well-being and.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Recognize that compliance is also important, but first and foremost, we need to make sure our kids are getting the connections that they need with adults there. They need to know that there is support there for them. They're so used to being connected to teachers, to their peers. And for those kids who might be very fragile in terms of mental health, we're trying really hard to make sure that those kids have support, contacts, therapies when we can continue them. But we're we're really worried about those kids with anxiety issues. And as this goes on, the school closures, there are more fragile kids than probably the ones that we need to keep a real eye on. As we move forward and many of them may not even have IEPs. So it's a pretty complicated situation.

Laura Knoy:
Got an email from Ashley who says, I am a mother of three, all of whom all of whom are at home. Ashley says, I've already encountered what I anticipate to be a daily struggle with my 14 year old son, who has recently received his first IEP. Motivation and attention were our problems from the start, and I'm already feeling the pressure of whether he can complete the necessary work. We have received some correspondence from his team, but he's not a major top priority at the school. He is one of the middle of the road kids who typically fall through the cracks. Anyway, I really don't know what we will do, but our best. Wow. Ashley, what a struggle. And I'm sure there are a lot of parents who can relate to what you're saying. I think I'm gonna throw that to you, Rebecca. You know, just it's just so hard and frustrating and especially for those kids who weren't high need, but who do need some help. But wonder you think, Rebecca.

Rebecca Fredette:
It is hard and it is frustrating. I think it's also hard and frustrating for our educators who are trying to develop this new system of remote instruction and just figuring out all the ins and outs of it. You know, we've only been technically two days in. And as we move forward, I think that some of those things will be fine tuned in some of those kids that that may not feel like they're getting a lot. They'll be able to reach out and they'll be able to provide those services to students. It's still a learning curve and it's still how do we how do we do this in general, let alone how do we do this for some of our most severe needs? And our districts are working hard to develop those plans and figure things out for themselves, as well as how they're going to provide services to every student that needs those services. But I would encourage her to continue to reach out to the districts and, you know, seek out assistance from them. And as they as they fine tune things, I think that she'll find that they're able to provide her with more support.

Laura Knoy:
Okay. Well, after a short break, Sarah Gibson, I also want to ask you about the mental health and anxiety piece that came up, because I know you've been looking at that. And then, Rebecca, maybe to you after a short break, how perhaps private providers are playing a role here when the school district employees are just overwhelmed by all they have to do with this transition to remote learning? And we'll keep taking your e-mails and calls, too. So Ashley, thank you for that one.

Laura Knoy:
This is The Exchange, I'm Laura Knoy. tomorrow on the exchange. Should New Hampshire impose shelter in place or stick with the more moderate restrictions the governor favors? Join us for that conversation. Plus, we'll talk with Congresswoman Ann McLane Kuster about the federal response to coronavirus. That's a Wednesday morning live at 9:00. This hour, we are looking at the challenges special education students and their families face as they shift to remote learning. If you are a parent of a child with special education needs or if you're an educator in this field, we'd love to hear from you. What's your experience been so far as the state jumps into all remote learning for all public school students? Our guests Sarah Gibson, NHPR's education reporter, Rebecca Fredette. The state's Special Education Director, and Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu, Executive Director of the New Hampshire Special Education Administrators Association. And Sarah, to you, shortly before the break, Jane mentioned the mental health piece of this, and we really don't want to leave that out of the discussion. Some kids receive very helpful services for mental health, for anxiety. Can you explain, Sarah, how that fits into this larger discussion and how it's being done?

Sarah Gibson:
Sure. Well, I really appreciate the point made earlier that it's not just students with IEPs IEP services who are experiencing anxiety.

Sarah Gibson:
I mean, I talked to a second grade teacher last week who said before the school closures, she was, you know, the students who were still coming to school that were just totally nervous. They were freaked out. They were worried that either they were going to die or their grandparents were going to die. And they were, you know, had these terrible stomach aches every day.

Sarah Gibson:
So this was two weeks ago that this was already kind of an energy that people were sensing among their students, particularly younger ones, regardless of their IEP status or their special needs. And so students who already have a diagnoses that diagnoses that involve anxiety, they are, you know, particularly, as Jane was saying, fragile in this moment. And they may rely on both group and individual therapy at their school. So districts are figuring out how to provide some of that remotely. A lot of guidance counselors and social workers who are pretty plugged into the Mental health needs of individual students. They were making a ton of calls last week during the process of assessment pre remote learning. So districts were figuring out everything from, you know, what is this IEP IEP plan look like? And also what are the needs for free and reduced meals of our students and who has Internet. So as that big assessment and surveying process was happening, you know, there was also this this eye towards mental health needs and how those could be addressed. And, you know, basically remote wellness checks that were happening already. I've heard in the case of the Keene school district that the local police are actually offering to, you know, since they rather than a provider could still show up to essentially do wellness checks if, say, a student is not attending remote classes for a number of days and people know there's a difficult family environment. So various both social service agencies as well as police are offering to do some of these in-person wellness checks.

Sarah Gibson:
And then right now, guidance counselors, social workers are trying to figure out, you know, how to make calls every couple of days and potentially schedule group therapy services. So so that's all. As we're saying, it's in the works like we're still in this experimentation phase. But I think, you know, I I I certainly think that guidance counselors and social workers are putting in really long hours right now to try to try to connect to students.

Laura Knoy:
Wow. Really interesting. Lots of coordination. Do you want to follow up on on that, Jane? Some of what Sarah just told us, it's pretty impressive. Guidance counselors are doing their best remotely, but also reaching out to police, saying, I think this particular child has a tough home situation. Can you check? It's there's a lot going on.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Yeah, I would agree with, you know, everything that Sarh has said, that our school districts have been very innovative in trying to ensure that we can stay connected with our kids. And Sarah gave some great examples. I know many districts are utilizing support staff to check in one two three times a day and report back to the professional staff on how kids are doing. If there's, you know, any challenges that our professionals need to beef up support, they're there to do it. And I think many of our districts are connecting with our mental health centers to ensure that, you know, we've got some triage ready. It's you know, we're learning this as we go. And I think we will continue to develop the different layers of services over the next few weeks to make sure that we keep connected with all of our kids and our families and make sure that, you know, there's stability and that they know that there's an adult that they can reach out to should they need it.

Laura Knoy:
Well, and Rebecca, as we talk about the extensive needs, how much are districts bringing in private providers to help out in this field or in the field of special education? And how are those private providers being paid?

Rebecca Fredette:
So I know that private providers were not some of the schools that had to be closed. And each of them has made individual determinations around how they would provide services in conjunction with their districts. All of our residential facilities, well not our residential facilities, but the residential facilities, came up with plans to provide services to students to continue to keep them on campus. And in taking into consideration some of those health and safety considerations for day students, we have a variety of different things that they've done. Some of them are providing remote learning themselves and have developed plans around how to provide services remotely, how to support families remotely, as well as providing smaller groups of students or staggering some of the kids that come into their programs. So they have fewer students coming into the districts excuse me, into the private providers to mitigate that risk for health and safety. So many districts are continuing to work with their private providers where their students are to ensure that students are getting services. I don't know if they've been asked to provide services beyond what they were already providing. That's not something I'm aware of. But I do know that they've you know, they've worked hard to really continue to provide those services for students and and develop plans with districts to ensure that some of our most needy students are receiving what they need.

Laura Knoy:
Let's take another call, this is Bonnie on the line. Hi, Bonnie. Thanks for being on exchange with us today.

Caller:
Hi, how are you? I'm. I'm with the Parent Information Center and we have heard from many families and in most cases we agree parents and schools are doing a great job working together to meet the needs of children with disabilities. But for those few children, the children with the most complex needs, when those needs aren't being met, the results can be can be devastating. In addition to compensatory education, I'm concerned that a few children's placement in the local school school district.

Caller:
When parents and schools work collaboratively.

Laura Knoy:
Yes, we lost a little bit of what you said there, so go ahead and repeat it, please.

Caller:
Okay. For children with the most complex needs, when those needs aren't being that we are concerned that in addition to compensatory education, children's placement in the local schooling community may even be in jeopardy if they lose skills to such a significant degree. The most frustrating things is when parents are not being responded to, when they are able to work with their schools. In the vast majority of cases, parents who have kids with complex needs have become very creative problem solvers. It's part of their everyday life, and when a school does not respond to them, they are missing out on a tremendous resource. I would really support a proactive approach where the parent does not feel the need to file a complaint, and it would be great if the Department of Ed would take the strong position that goes right along with their values that parents and schools need to be able to work together, and that they do not condone any situation when a school is not responsive to a parent who is making a good faith effort to work with them to solve their child's particular situation.

Laura Knoy:
So Bonnie, let make sure I got you right and I appreciate the call. So it sounds like you're saying that, you know, when a child's needs are not met and he or she really starts to slide in terms of progress, compensatory services down the road, summer, fall, whatever. That's not enough. So much progress has been lost that next year placement could be in jeopardy. Is that what you're saying Bonnie?

Caller:
I think for a few for a few children, particularly those, as Jane has said, who have intense emotional disabilities or into a combination of disabilities, they may suffer such a severe or harm from this break that they not just from their education, but from the services that go along with it, that their needs may no longer be able to be met. Some children's placement in their home may even be in jeopardy if they if they aren't getting their needs. Children receive services both in school and out of school in order to be able to stay at home and in their community.

Laura Knoy:
Wow, Bonnie, it's good to hear from you. Thank you very much. And Jane, what a struggle. Do you want to comment on what Bonnie told us?

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Sure.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
You know, in in these kind of rare cases that Bonnie speak to, you know, as they said at the beginning of our session, that one of the fundamental principles were really emphasizing with schools and school districts is that communication piece and to, you know, be working diligently on as best as you can to ensure that services are being provided. And I would also agree with Bonnie that the complaint process is a last resort. There's lots of negotiation that can come, you know, before you get to the complaint process. Just as Karen mentioned earlier, we have to be thinking outside of the box in terms of how these intensive services are going to be provided to our most fragile kids. And we're all going to have to work together to problem solve. There's not going to be one easy solution in every one of these fragile kids. So different.

Laura Knoy:
Bonnie, thank you again for calling and good luck to you. Sarah, there's another group of students that we haven't talked about that I really do want to talk about, and that is English language learners who get a lot of help in the schools, especially in areas like Concord, Manchester, Nashua. What is happening with English English language learners and their ability to maintain their progress?

Sarah Gibson:
That's a great question. And yeah, just to be clear, these are not necessarily students who also have IEP services. They're not special ed, but they are getting additional kind of intensive services.

Sarah Gibson:
You know, as long as there's a robust English language learner program in their school in order to basically take advantage of the education offered at their school. And I've been talking to some English language teachers who say that, you know, there are tons of additional hurdles. And and one of them is just, you know, in addition to making sure everyone has Internet and can get onto Zoom or Google classroom for these English classes, there's also just the the parent part.

Sarah Gibson:
And we're hearing so much in the last hour and really every day about how essential parents supervision and parent involvement is and how important it is for parents to understand the kind of the ecosystem of a school district and how their kid fits into that. And so with a lot of parents who do not speak English as their first language, they have this additional hurdle to even understand what is my kid supposed to be getting when they're at home? What is going on with remote learning?

Sarah Gibson:
So it's really in terms of ELL students right now. There's a real challenge in reaching out to their families and making sure that they feel included in the communication in their own language about what's going on and what they're what they can expect education wise for their students to receive during this challenging time. So I'm kind of following that and seeing how it's going. But I will say certainly that the teachers I've spoken to are in a lot of touch and as we've heard, like really, really trying to stay connected to families and students. But it's sometimes an uphill battle given tech access, given language barriers, and given some of the other things we've heard about today just in terms of, you know, really busy parents monitoring multiple students, multiple kids at once.

Laura Knoy:
Well, I can certainly relate to that. And it's a challenge for any parent to figure this out. Never mind if you have technical issues. Maybe you're a refugee family and you don't have Internet access or there isn't enough access for everyone, never mind understanding the expectations. And as you put it, Sarah, so while the ecosystem of how districts work. So I will look forward to hearing your reporting on that, because that's that's really interesting. Just a couple last questions for you, Rebecca. First, I think what are your hopes as this process really begins in earnest this week? What's the best case scenario for these children and their families as they try to get special education remotely?

Rebecca Fredette:
I think my hope is that districts continue to work with families and work with their service providers to provide the best opportunities we can for our students as we work through this and that it evolves. You know, it may start someplace. And then as we get better at this and we get better at. We're doing we may be able to provide more than we're providing now and we may be able to support ways that we didn't think of and as Jane had said, think outside the box and be creative and and really talk to each other and figure out some things that may work for the students that you normally wouldn't have thought about.

Laura Knoy:
Jane, how about you? What are your hopes as this process begins in earnest?

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
I think my hope is to ensure that our children and youth continue to be engaged in their meaningful learning and that they stay connected to the important adults in their life, whether it be their family, their teachers. So that during this really scary and unprecedented time, they know that school is still there for them and that they are going to continue learning.

Laura Knoy:
Wow, yeah, and again, as Governor Sununu said yesterday, the state is going to re-evaluate the school closure on April 3rd, but, quote, This crisis is not going to go away in a couple of weeks. The likelihood, the governor said, of continuing that is more likely than not, Jane. So, you know, if you'd been hoping that schools would reopen on April 3rd, governor seems to be saying don't help too hard. How do you feel about that, Jane?

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
Well, you know, I think, again, putting the health and safety of our kids and our staff and the citizens of New Hampshire comes first.

Jane Bergeron-Beaulieu:
I think we also need to recognize that this remote learning is hopefully temporary. It's not, as you've heard today, fully meeting the needs of all of our kids. And we're learning along the way. But hopefully we can, you know, look ahead to the future and know that this, too, will pass and that hopefully we are going to get back to our normal situation and that there won't be a lot of loss or illness during this very difficult time.

Laura Knoy:
And Sarah, in addition to covering English language learners and how they're dealing with remote learning, what else are you going to be looking at as students stay out of school buildings for probably more than another two weeks?

Sarah Gibson:
So one of the things is this question of the IEP plan itself on these 30000 IEP plans that that we have here in New Hampshire. Do those get modified as teams kind of look at, OK, how we're going to get through the next couple of months? And it could be that, you know, there's a real reassessment of the education at large. The general ed curriculum at large that students, regardless of IEP status, regardless of special needs, are getting during this remote learning time. And that could really inform some shifts to the remote learning plan that that parents and teachers come up with together to say, you know, one of the one of these students is going to tweak their IEP plan. So the services they're expected to get might look a little different, you know, two two months into a remote learning experience. So I'll be looking at that as well. As you know, these questions of who's falling through the cracks. We've heard a couple times this hour that there are some kids who have really complex needs who are going to need a lot of attention and can that happen remotely?

Laura Knoy:
All right, all of you, thank you very much for being with us. We really appreciate it. You're listening to the exchange on New Hampshire Public Radio.

The views expressed in this program are those of the individuals and not those of NHPR its board of trustees or its underwriters. If you liked what you heard, spread the word. Give us a review on Apple podcasts to help other listeners find us. And thanks.